How to use Hyphens, En & EM Dashes Correctly [Typography]

In writing and typography, hyphens and dashes are often used interchangeably. The situation is not helped by the fact that there are two types of dashes, a long em dash (—) and a short en dash (–). They may look similar, but they have different use cases and should be used correctly.

Shortcuts for hyphens, en, and em dash

WindowsMac OSHTML
en dashalt 0150alt/option + hyphen–
em dashalt 0151alt/option + shift + hyphen—
Notice the difference in length.

Hyphen vs. En vs. Em Dash

Here’s the difference between hyphens, and en/em dashes:

  • Hyphens (-) are used for multipart words and for words that break into multiple lines. For example: “left-click” and “old-fashioned” are multipart words. Some browsers can automatically hyphenate words (line break) by using the CSS hyphens: auto; property. Although as of July 2020, automatic hyphenation is only fully compatible in Firefox & Safari.
  • En dashes (–), also known as a short dash, are used for ranges of values, e.g. from 1980–2020 (which could also be written as 1980 to 2020).
  • Em dashes (—), also known as a long dash, are used to make a pause in a sentence, followed by a strong point, in a situation where using a comma is too weak. For example: “nowadays being tech-savvy is an advantage to get a job at most places — in the future, it will be mandatory.”

Note: em dashes (—) can either be used with no space between the dash and the next and previous word or with a single space on each side of the dash:

  • Em dash—with no space between dash and words.
  • Em dash — with a single space between dash and words.

Both are correct, just be consistent with the style you choose.

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